The English language is a fascinating mix of regional dialects and unique slang, shaped by centuries of history and cultural influences. Throughout its long history, the UK has had many invasions and visitors. From the Romans in ancient Londinium to the rolling hills of the Saxon heartland, and from the Viking raiders of the north to the Norman conquerors of the south, each wave of historical influence has shaped the dialects of the UK. Each region of the United Kingdom has its own distinct flavor of language and accent. Today, we embark on a slang tour to explore some of the expressions from different regions.
How the English language has changed over the decades
All languages change over time, and there can be many different reasons for this. The English language is no different – but why has it changed over the decades?
Some of the main influences on the evolution of languages include:
- the movement of people across countries and continents, for example, migration and, in previous centuries, colonization. For example, English speakers today would probably be comfortable using the Spanish word 'loco' to describe someone who is 'crazy'.
- speakers of one language coming into contact with those who speak a different one. No two individuals speak identically: people from different geographical places clearly speak differently and even within the same community there are variations according to a speaker’s age, gender, ethnicity and social and educational background. For example, the word 'courting' has become 'dating'.
- new vocabulary required for inventions such as transport, domestic appliances and industrial equipment, or for sporting, entertainment, cultural and leisure reasons. For example, the original late 19th century term 'wireless' has become today’s 'radio'.
Due to these influences, a language always embraces new words, expressions and pronunciations as people come across new words and phrases in their day-to-day lives and integrate them into their own speech.
What changes has the English language seen?
As the English language has changed, it’s been easy to pick out words that pass into common usage. Here at Pearson English, we have explored some of these recent changes to the English language. The rise in popularity of internet slang has seen phrases such as 'LOL' (Laugh Out Loud), 'FOMO' (Fear Of Missing Out) and 'fam' (an abbreviated form of family) become firmly embedded in the English language over the past ten years.
Every decade sees new slang terms like these appearing in the English language. And while some words or abbreviations do come from internet or text conversations, others may appear as entirely new words, a new meaning for an existing word, or a word that becomes more generalized than its former meaning, brought about by any one of the reasons above. Decades ago, 'blimey' was a new expression of surprise, but more recently 'woah' is the word in everyday usage.
Sentence structure is of course, another change to the English language. Decades ago, it would have been normal to ask 'Have you a moment?' Now, you might say 'D’you have a sec?' Similarly, 'How do you do?' has become 'How’s it going?' Not only have the sentences been abbreviated, but new words have been introduced to everyday questions.
Connected to this is the replacement of certain words with other, more modern versions. It’s pretty noticeable that words like 'shall' and 'ought' are on the way out, but 'will', 'should' and 'can' are doing just fine.
Other changes can be more subtle. Many verbs can take a compliment with another verb in either the '-ing' form or the 'to' form, for example, 'they liked painting/to paint', 'we tried leaving/to leave', or 'he didn’t bother calling/to call'. Both of these constructions are still used and have been for a long time, but there has been a steady shift over time from the 'to' to the '-ing' compliment.
What do the changes mean?
There are many other changes to the English language – what have you noticed? Have these changes affected your teaching or learning methods?
Most contemporary linguistic commentators accept that change in language, like change in society, is inevitable. Some think that is regrettable, but others recognize it as a reinvigoration of a language, bringing alternatives that allow subtle differences of expression.
Linguist, writer and lecturer David Crystal considers whether 'text speak' is undermining the English language. His response to the naysayers who claim it is damaging the English language is to point out that abbreviations have been around for a long time. While some, such as the ones we discussed above, are new, others, such as the use of 'u' for 'you' and the number 8 as a syllable in 'later', have been around for a century or more. Further to this, research shows that there is a correlation between the ability to use abbreviations and the ability to spell. After all, in order to abbreviate, you have to know which letters to abbreviate.
As with everything, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, as the needs of English language users continue to change, so will the language!
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Language is not only a tool for communication but also a means to explore and comprehend diverse cultures, traditions, and perspectives. Europe, with its vast array of languages, is a prime example of this linguistic diversity. Each year on September 26th, Europe observes the European Day of Languages, which is a day solely dedicated to celebrating and embracing this linguistic richness.
Europe is a magnificent tapestry of languages, with over 200 spoken throughout the continent. This diversity is a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of each nation and reminds us of the intricate historical, social, and linguistic elements that mold our identities. The European Day of Languages inspires people to cherish and honor this linguistic heritage.
Why September 26th?
September 26th marks an important date for celebrating linguistic diversity and promoting multilingualism. This day commemorates the adoption of the "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages" by the Council of Europe in 1992, a crucial document that recognizes and safeguards the linguistic rights of minority languages spoken within European countries. By celebrating the European Day of Languages on this date, it renews our commitment to supporting the rich diversity of languages and cultures that make our world a more vibrant and fascinating place.
What type of events happen?
The European Day of Languages offers language learners a chance to participate in language exchanges, which is an exciting opportunity. During such exchanges, learners from diverse backgrounds partner up and teach each other their native languages. This not only helps improve language skills but also promotes intercultural understanding.
Various European cities offer language workshops led by enthusiasts and experts, providing an introduction to different languages.
Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool for learning languages. Libraries, schools, and cultural centers hold multilingual storytelling sessions, where stories from different cultures are shared in their original languages. This helps both children and adults to better understand and appreciate the beauty of linguistic diversity.
Cinema provides a wonderful opportunity to explore different languages and cultures. Throughout Europe, foreign films are often shown with subtitles, enabling viewers to fully immerse themselves in new linguistic worlds.
Museums often showcase exhibitions highlighting the linguistic and cultural heritage of various regions, providing insight into the history and traditions of different languages.
Cafés and restaurants might offer special menus featuring diverse cuisines and multilingual staff – a delightfully tasty way to explore languages and cultures.
Games and Competitions
Language-based games and competitions, such as crossword puzzles and spelling bees, are organized in schools and communities to provide a fun and educational way to celebrate language.
If you are a teacher hoping to celebrate this occasion make sure to check here for ideas on what to do.
Check out what events are happening near you here.
Just like the European day of Languages, we at Pearson Languages are fully committed to empowering and celebrating language learners and educators alike. That's why we are now supporting French, Italian, and Spanish language learning with the Global Scale of Languages (GSL). With these new language learning frameworks at your fingertips, you can confidently design curriculums and personalize learning pathways to help fast-track your learners’ progress and help your learners be themselves in French, Italian and Spanish.
Whether you're a teacher, a language learner, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of languages, the European Day of Languages and the GSL provide exciting opportunities to explore, learn, and enjoy the rich tapestry of Europe's linguistic heritage.
Can we play a game? How many times have you been asked this in class? And how often do you say Yes? Young learners love to play games, and if you choose the right ones, they can have a hugely beneficial impact on their learning.
As well as being fun, games can provide learners with necessary language practice, as well as lowering the affective filter (i.e. anxiety, fear, boredom and other negative emotions that can all impact learning). Games also foster a positive, relaxed environment.
So are you ready to play? Here are a few tried and tested games that work especially well in the primary classroom. Each game is designed to consolidate and review the language students have been learning, and take from 5 to 15 minutes. The games are flexible enough for you to adapt them to different levels, age groups and skills.